UP Veterinary Care: A lack of resources

A lack of veterinary care resources is impacting not just pet owners, but animal shelters and veterinarians themselves, too.
Published: Jul. 10, 2023 at 6:18 PM EDT
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UPPER PENINSULA, Mich. (WLUC) - All pets need care, just like you would get established with a family care doctor. But animal caregivers and pet owners across the U.P. echo the same sentiment – there is a lack of access to veterinary care.

It’s a situation UPAWS, an animal shelter in Sands Township, is experiencing firsthand.

“Sometimes people run into the issue of, they’ve had the pet for six months to a year, something happens and then they’re booked out a couple of months because the established clients are probably going to take precedence,” said Laura Rochefort, the veterinary assistant at UPAWS.

In Dickinson County, workers at the Almost Home Animal Shelter say the lack of veterinarians is slowing down pet adoptions.

“They have to be fixed first before they leave and sometimes there can be a long waiting period for that, and that gets a little frustrating because the animals are sitting here waiting to go home,” said Diane Luczak, the manager of the Almost Home Animal Shelter.

Beyond not having enough vets to provide primary care in the U.P., there is no emergency care available here either. Animals are sent to Lower Michigan and Wisconsin for major surgeries because they have specialists who offer advanced care.

“The closest emergency clinic is in Green Bay,” said Tracy Nyberg a veterinarian and the owner of Stuga North Veterinary Care. “It’s called Fox Valley Animal Referral Center. Packerland is another bigger vet down there, or people will go down to Madison - that’s where the university is. There are other emergency clinics in between the two bigger cities.”

This shortage is also taking a mental toll on veterinarians themselves. According to the CDC, veterinarians in the U.S. are at an increased suicide risk.

The CDC studied vets for 36 years and found women vets were three and a half times more likely than the general population to die by suicide. Men were just over two times as likely.

Of those who died by suicide, 75% worked in a small animal practice.

“So that is it kind of goes back to veterinarians and you know getting sick and having families and being a human,” said Rochefort.

But there is hope on the horizon. Between veterinarians and those passionate about animals, conversations are ongoing across the U.P. on how to improve rural vet services and the health of those who provide them.

In part two of this investigation, we will look at solutions in the works to find more vets, expand emergency care and address mental health concerns. Watch that story on Tuesday’s TV6 Early News.